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The Mind Robber; the Deadly Assassin

This was a fortuitously good paired viewing of Doctor Who stories, the first being the 1968 Second Doctor story with Jamie and Zoe, shown between The Dominators and The Invasion, and the second a Fourth Doctor story without companions, which I remember vividly from its original broadcast in 1976.

The Mind Robber features... Oh, let's get it over with. Zoe. Nobody can keep their hands off her. Certainly not the Doctor (see right). Certainly not Jamie. And the first episode ends like this. In the fourth episode she has a catfight with a caped and masked comic book superhero and wins. No wonder today's Guardian lists her as one of the top five companions ever! I have to say that I can't think of a more confident and sexy performance from any of the companions in any other old Who story; Leela, I think, comes closest but that is not very close. (Of course, if we count new Who as well, nobody can hold a candle to John Barrowman.)

And the confidence on her part (and indeed that of the rest of the cast) is remarkable because in fact the story very clearly doesn't make a lot of sense.

The Doctor and companions are trapped in the Land of Fiction by its Master (not that Master but a different cosmic villain of the same name). We have a forest made of words. We have Jamie transformed into a different actor for an episode, to cover up the fact that Frazer Hines contracted chicken pox. We have clockwork soldiers. We have Rapunzel, we have E. Nesbit's Five Children, and best of all we have Lemuel Gulliver, played superbly by Bernard Horsfall (and more on him later). We have glorious moments of Jamie and Zoe becoming fictional, becoming hostile to the Doctor, being nostalgic for their lost homelands (to which of course they will be returned by the end of the season).

But we also have Doctor Who coming close to breaking the fourth wall, not in the overt way of the First Doctor in the Daleks' Master Plan (or the charming Morgus in The Caves of Androzani), but in terms of exploring Story and what it means to be in one. It's fascinating and bizarre and I'll have to re-watch it soon, along with all the DVD extras. And not just because I want to ogle Zoe again.

As for the Deadly Assassin: I was really a bit worried about watching it this time round; could it possibly be as good as I remembered it being from when I was nine years old, over thirty years ago? But yes, yes it is. Tom Baker is at the top of his form, combining humour, moral outrage, and determination to do the right thing by his home planet and people, even if they seem at times equally determined to do the wrong thing by him. And Robert Holmes' superb script has so many memorable moments - here's an early one, spoken by the exasperated official trying to pin the Doctor down who comes closest to filling the companion role. There's a great Doctor/Tardis love moment as well.

Yet there are a couple of oddities. One, which is nothing to do with the series as originally presented, is that it has been preserved only as a 90-minute movie, which is rather annoying for those of us purists who like the old cliffhangers. Another, which is very bizarre indeed, is that there are no women visible anywhere in the Gallifrey of The Deadly Assassin. (Helen Blatch plays the disembodied voice of the Time Lords' computer system.) This is of course the only story featuring the Doctor with no companion (unless one counts The Runaway Bride), but it really does seem peculiar. One could probably do a short list of stories featuring only male guest stars (?The Moonbase?) but I think this must be the only one with no women on the screen at all.

The interesting linkage with The Mind Robber is that for much of the story the Doctor enters a constructed, invented world, in which he has to battle an artifical reality and try and impose his own will on it. There is an interesting compare-and-contrast between the Second Doctor urging Jamie and Zoe to deny the existence of the unicorn charging at them, and the Fourth Doctor denying the fact that he has been wounded in the leg - same theme but pointing to the very different ways the series as a whole was going in 1968 and 1976. Like the Land of Fiction, the world inside the Matrix of the Time Lords turns out to be under the control of a cosmic villain called the Master - and this time it is that Master, reappearing for the first time since 1973, but horribly altered; with an audacious plan to seize control of the universe by tapping the very power of the Time Lords themselves. (The reality-altering theme is nicely echoed in the final episode by Cardinal Borusa's attempt to impose his own version of historical reality on recent events.)

As I hinted at above, The Deadly Assassin has Bernard Horsfall returning - this time not as Gulliver (left), but as Chancellor Goth of the Time Lords (right). (I believe he is a Thal officer in Planet of the Daleks too, but haven't seen that yet.) Horsfall also appeared in the last episode of The War Games in 1969 (middle), pronouncing sentence of exile and regeneration on the Doctor. If we are meant to read the two characters as the same person - though they have very different haircuts - then The Deadly Assassin represents the Fourth Doctor not only overcoming the Third Doctor's unfinished business with his arch-enemy, but also reversing the Second Doctor's defeat by the Time Lords in general (and by this one in particular).

Anyway, these are both essential viewing for the Who fan, and I think The Deadly Assassin keeps its place at the top of my personal list of Greatest Ever old Who stories, despite its lack of gender balance.


( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 29th, 2007 05:30 pm (UTC)
It's been years since I've seen Deadly Assassin, but I LOVE Mind Robber. Not only, for a bibliophile like myself is it truly fascinating, but I love the skill demonstrated by the writers when it came to Gilliver's dialog with the Doctor et al.
Mar. 30th, 2007 12:13 am (UTC)
I've barely seen any Two episodes, but whenever I see him in one, I really like him, and the few I can remember are great. Really have to get around to watching more.

And not just because Zoe looks good
Mar. 30th, 2007 01:46 am (UTC)
I've only seen a handful of the second, but I've liked almost all of what I've seen. He was a bit too manipulative for my taste in Evil of the Daleks, but it was a good story.
Mar. 30th, 2007 05:07 am (UTC)
I'm in the minority on Evil of the Daleks. But I am enjoying all the Two I can get.
Mar. 29th, 2007 08:37 pm (UTC)
Not that this really has anything to do with your post, but I'm almost all the way through the second season of the new Dr. Who, and I'm finding it very strange and fascinating to watch David Tennant play the Doctor, since the only one I've ever seen is Christopher Eccleston. I keep sitting there trying to think, "How would the last Doctor have done this?" and I don't know. I can't tell if that's because Tennant's doing an extremely fine job of playing an ongoing character (and I'd need to see earlier Doctors to really know that, I think) or if he's playing the character closely enough to Eccleston's version specifically that I'm not experiencing cognitive dissonance when I expect to, or if I've just accepted the new Doctor straightaway and the differences in how they might act are irrelevant because it's the same person, or...it's very confusing! And interesting! :)

Also, I thought Eccleston was pretty damned heartbreaking, but I've spent pretty much this entire season going "snif!" I don't know if that's because it's better written (it is) or if it's Tennant's Big Brown Eyes, or if I'm just getting more familiar with the character in general and therefore more sympathetic to him, or what, but man. We've only got 3 episodes left and I know what happens, generally, at the end of the second season, so I'm *anticipating* even more agony tomorrow night when we watch it. :)
Mar. 30th, 2007 05:23 am (UTC)
Tennant has such strong echoes of 3 (for me, particularly), 4, 5 and 7 that it's obvious he was a fan, but he's taking the character in directions that nobody else has yet done. Eccleston was 'less Doctory' than any of the other series incarnations, with the roots of his performance seeming to me to come from a younger 1 with the odd dash of 7.
Mar. 29th, 2007 09:44 pm (UTC)
I love the episodes set on Gallifrey, tho the only ones I've seen are Deadly Assassin, The Invasion of Time and the Five Doctors...backstory always fascinates me...
Mar. 30th, 2007 05:00 am (UTC)
Interesting - I remember feeling when it was first broadcast that The Invasion of Time went on a bit too long. I haven't rushed to watch it again, but the day will come...

I agree about backstory though, and The War Games has tons of it.
Mar. 30th, 2007 05:23 am (UTC)
I remember feeling when it was first broadcast that The Invasion of Time went on a bit too long
That might have been the scenes where the Dr & Co keep walking through the same set over and over (Nonsense! This is storage bay theta-delta, not omega-omicron!).... or the fact that Gallifrey gets invaded twice...
Still, you get Leela in the swimming pool...
I need to find The War Games, obviously..,
Mar. 30th, 2007 05:26 am (UTC)
There were several things badly wrong with Invasion of Time - Andred, Leela running off with Andred with no real justification, the Vardans, and the way Tom's performance goes from steely intensity in the first couple of episodes to... well... slack in the later ones.
Mar. 30th, 2007 12:16 am (UTC)
Can you recommend a good Zoe episode?
Mar. 30th, 2007 04:30 am (UTC)
The Mind Robber or the War Games, I would say. The War Games is very long (10 episodes) and you can probably skip episodes 6-8 but there's a lot of great stuff in it.

I haven't seen The Invasion, but I think Nicholas has.

And The Krotons is in general poorly looked on, but it does have a great scene where the aliens are making everyone undergo logic tests (so they can SUCK their BRAINS) and Zoe says "The Doctor is almost as clever as I am."
Mar. 30th, 2007 07:47 am (UTC)
The Wheel in Space surviving episodes are also rather good as is The Invasion.

The War Games is, unfortunately, far too long.
Mar. 30th, 2007 05:07 am (UTC)
To back up my brother: Yes, The Mind Robber or The War Games. Also she has a slightly sapphic thing going with one of the guest cast in The Invasion, but the crucial episode is missing (and replaced by a rather impressive animation).

You can avoid The Space Pirates and The Dominators.
Mar. 30th, 2007 03:05 pm (UTC)
Thanks brothers W. I remember Jamie so well (one of my fave companions) and yet not Zoe. Maybe when I watch an episode it will all come back.
Apr. 1st, 2007 08:07 pm (UTC)
>>> Also she has a slightly sapphic thing going with one of the guest cast in >>> The Invasion, but the crucial episode is missing (and replaced by a rather >>> impressive animation).

Good lord! I must look for that.

In the novel I am writing, the female protagonist is called Zoe Heriot. Originally, she was boringly called Zoe (E.) Davis, but after I stumbled on the fact that the Doctor's Zoe was a brilliant mathematician/astrophysicist, it was too good a coincidence to put aside. But does anyone whether Zoe's surname is *definitively* spelt with one "r" or two?
Apr. 2nd, 2007 05:12 am (UTC)
I think "more often" with one r rather than "definitively" so!
Apr. 2nd, 2007 08:47 am (UTC)
That fits with my understanding. It seems that the single "r" spelling was the form enerally used in older sources. I wonder if the double "r" spelling was influenced by "All Creatures Great and Small". I'll stick with the single "r". Got to think of a reason now to get my Zoe into a silver catsuit..
Mar. 30th, 2007 07:07 am (UTC)
You've just picked two of my all time favourites, but I'm puzzled. You say of Deadly Assassin it has been preserved only as a 90-minute movie - I last watched the full story in the USA, probably 10 years ago, when it was being run as individual episodes by a public TV broadcaster. By that point the BBC archives were actively looking for complete runs; are you sure they don't have a complete print of the story in the archives?
Mar. 30th, 2007 07:32 am (UTC)
It may be in the archives, but doesn't seem to be available commercially (or by, er, other means).
Mar. 30th, 2007 07:45 am (UTC)
That's a bugger. A 3rd gen copy was amongst the Betamax tapes I freecycled last year, once the DW restoration project had told me they already had everything on the list I sent them.
Mar. 30th, 2007 03:16 pm (UTC)
The Mind Robber is indeed a wonderful story, and not just because it features the finest arse shot of the 1960s. One of the things I love about DW is its ability to leap from genre to genre without any apparent effort, and that was really highlighted for me when I recently watched The Mind Robber followed by The Invasion, in line with the original series broadcast. The former is a brilliantly designed sinister fairytale in a world of pure artifice: the latter begins as a dark and brutal contemporary spy thriller. Both are terrific, but the jump from one to the other is truly exhilirating.
Mar. 30th, 2007 03:48 pm (UTC)
...and by not watching the five surviving episodes of The Dominators beforehand, you saved yourself two hours of tedium!
( 23 comments — Leave a comment )

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